I received the following email from someone asking about portrait photography. Rather than just send the answers to her, I decided to post them here:
My name is XXXX. I live in Louisiana and I am an aspiring professional photographer. Your photos are always so beautiful and stunning. So dramatic. I love your work! (I’m sure you hear that a lot, but you know it’s true! ) I am trying to grow and develop my own unique style with photography. I have a couple of questions for you if you have the time and are able to answer them.
1. In the studio what is the type of light you usually use for portraits.
2. What is your favorite lense for portraits.
3. I always have trouble when trying to direct whoever I may be shooting in a studio setting. Especially adults (not models). They always seem to want to pose, and then they get bored because they have no mores poses to do. (models of course have more experience there) Do you have any suggestions on how to direct a adult during a shoot? What can I say to be able to get a relaxed candid stunning photo?
4. (Final one) Right now, since I am just a beginner, I use a Nikon D60. Is there a camera body that you recommend for me to upgrade to on my road to being professional?
Thank you so much for your help!
It is such an honor to just be emailing you!
Thank you for your time.
1) I use Profoto Compact 600ws Monolights. They are now discontinued and may be still available at Midwest Photo Exchange at a very low price. I highly recommend them. The light modifier depends on the purpose of the portrait. Often I am trying to get a clean portrait where you can really see the artist. In those cases I might use a 6 ft Elinchrom Octabank. (The Paul Buff White Bounce version of the PLM umbrella is a cheaper alternative).
If I am trying to do something more dramatic, I will use a harder, smaller, light modifier such as a beauty dish or Profoto Magnum reflector. These modifiers produce more shadows on the face and body and sometimes that makes the photo more interesting than a softer portrait that does not have shadow.
2) I use an 85mm on a Full Frame Nikon D3x. The 85mm is a telephoto lens and it forces you to shoot from several feet back from your subject. This gives you a “normal” perspective on the subject. In other words the face will be in the correct proportion. His head won’t be too large for his body.
3) How to pose the subject depends a lot on the purpose of the shoot. It’s hard to answer this question in a way that applies to every subject. For most of my shoots however, I will let the subject pose himself for a couple of minutes even if he doesn’t know how to pose. I want the subject to run out of poses so that they will be glad that I am now helping to pose them. Also, I like to get a few frames that represent who the person is before I begin to create my vision of that person.
I keep dozens of poses on my iPhone and I don’t hesitate to refer to these poses in private or with the subject when I run out of poses. I get these poses from magazines and from the web. I keep separate galleries for sexy poses, fashion poses, music artist poses, etc. I use these photographs as a starting point because my goal isn’t to imitate that pose. Instead, that photograph just helps to get me and the subject started.
Also, I am never negative with the subject. I never say, “Don’t do that,” or “That pose doesn’t work for you.” If I don’t like the pose he is doing, I just tell them how to adjust the pose, “Lower your chin,” or “Fold your arms,” or whatever. I don’t make the subject self conscious by pointing out their bad poses.
4) The camera body depends a lot on your personal preference. There is a photographer/blogger named Kirk Tuck who has written several posts about how much he likes using smaller cameras like the Canon G10 or the Olympus EP1. I prefer a much larger, heavier camera and that is why I’ve used the Nikon F4, F5, D2x, D3, etc. When I first got into digital, I bought a D100, which is a smaller camera body. I used it for about a year and I hated every minute of it. The image quality was fine, but it didn’t feel like a pro body.
Once you figure out the minimum technical requirements that you need in a camera (probably between 6-10 megapixels in a DX body), you can basically just buy the body that you like. It doesn’t matter if it is popular with pros or even amateurs. All that matters is that you like using the body. That said, both the Nikon D300 and D90 are great bodies that are used by both pros and amateurs.
If you’re doing portraits though, I strongly suggest you get both a 50mm and an 85mm lens rather than using a zoom. You’ll get a higher image quality than a cheap consumer zoom, and you’ll view your subejcts through a brighter viewfinder image. And, won’t have to worry much about keeping your subjects in the “right” perspective.